Early this week our family made the annual trek to secure our Christmas tree. The tree selection is actually not a critical piece of our Christmas celebration. Sometimes we pick it out in October, tag it, and send daddy into the December cold to cut it down. Sometimes we all tromp through the snow so we can freeze our behinds off while the kids fight over which tree we should buy. Sometimes Dave just swings by Menards and grabs one. It doesn’t matter to us as long as we wind up with a tree.
Wandering around the farm I could see why some families make it a tradition to always do this activity together. The kids were in good spirits, giggling and darting between the trees. No one fought. No one complained that it was too cold. Everyone was in agreement about the size and shape we were hunting for. The place smelled amazing. The workers were cheerful and helpful. And we all agreed on a tree with no tears. It was unprecedented. By all standards of measurement this was about as successful a family tree finding mission as we were going to get. I didn’t even make all four kids pose for a picture lest I interrupt the good vibes. Just my two hams:
We headed into the warming house while the workers prepped and bound the tree for the journey home. The kids were delighted to discover hot apple cider and we settled in to wait. Sipping my cider, I took in the decorations all over the warming house. The entire room was covered with posters about the importance of taking care of the earth and sustainability and environmental initiatives. I am totally on board with taking care of the earth so I thought, “Kudos to you guys.”
I also noted an entire bulletin board dedicated to Tibetan monks and a giant article from the local newspaper about how applying Buddhist practices can bring you peace during a long winter. I started searching for something about Christmas. After all, this is a Christmas tree farm and clearly these people were into educating their customers. I finally saw a little handwritten notecard with a mention of Christmas … right next to one about Kwanza.
To be fair, the greeting Merry Christmas was found on decorations throughout the farm. But in all the information plastered on every surface of the warming house there was no mention of the birth of Jesus. No mention of any historical significance of the season. Nothing but a 4 x 6 card with some nondescript info about how some people celebrate Christmas.
Please understand me, I know NOTHING about the faith of the tree farm owners and am in no way trying to imply or pass any judgment. I really am not. All I know about them is that they are very nice people who run a fun tree farm in a sustainable fashion. They aren’t a church and I don’t expect them to evangelize.
But if I were a visitor from another universe, I would think we were celebrating taking care of the environment and practicing Tibetan Buddhist principles whilst putting up a fir tree and shouting, “Merry Christmas.” It just seemed a little ridiculous when I thought about it. And it felt like a let down.
I understand trying to be sensitive to other beliefs this time of year. And I understand that in the United States Christmas is as much of a cultural holiday as it is religious. But when we completely avoid talking about the historical and religious significance of the holiday, we diminish the richness of the celebration. It leaves the whole thing feeling hollow at best and campy at worst. Christmas becomes a celebration for celebration’s sake – which is never as meaningful as a commemoration of a real event.
If I invite you to a birthday party, it is anchored in the remembrance of the birth of a person. Graduation celebrations, retirement parties, going away parties, and the like all commemorate real people and real life events. All of these are more meaningful than a frat party – the sole purpose of which is to party for party’s sake.
The Christmas holiday is rooted in a real event – the birth of Christ. It is sacred to millions of people all over the world. Some estimates actually place the number at two billion. And to observe Christmas with a nod to the religious significance does not require anyone to be a Christian anymore than attending a birthday party requires it to be your birthday.
I have attended many religious celebrations of faiths not my own without fear or offense. It always meant more if I understood what the heck the people believed. So its curious to me why we, as a society increasingly skirt the history and religious significance of Christmas.
What are we afraid of?
This year I invite you, regardless of your religious beliefs, to stop and consider the religious roots of Christmas. Its an absolutely beautiful tradition steeped in history and I believe an understanding of this will only add depth to your celebration.
The December timing isn’t quite right – and we have added all sorts of flotsam and folderol to the celebration. Yet there is something undeniably special about a collective moment of reflection shared by billions all over the world.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:10-14
Jesus wasn’t just some baby born in a stable. And he wasn’t just a nice guy. Christians believe Jesus was the Messiah – the long awaited King of Israel who fulfilled the promise of deliverance – God in human flesh – the only way to Heaven. Prophets foretold of the circumstances of his birth over 700 years before it happened.”Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:17. (circa 700 BC)
Even if you don’t believe all that, no one can deny He changed the world.
Jesus preached a message of self-sacrificial love – but he also demanded righteousness and turning from sin. He claimed He was the Son of God and that he was God. These claims rankled the religious leaders of his day to the point that they had him killed. Jesus asked for nothing less than complete obedience to him. And when he said, “Follow me,” people dropped everything and followed him. You don’t do that just because someone is a nice guy or was a cute baby born in a stable.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6
Maybe its worth investigating what the Bible says about this Jesus. Especially during the Christmas season.
As we settle into our December hustle and bustle and parties and music and family time, I invite you to take time to reflect on exactly what and who it is that half the world is celebrating. Maybe you don’t believe in God or rarely think about him. Maybe you believe but have never studied the claims of Christ. Maybe you consider yourself a Christ-follower but need a little nudge back into the Bible.
No matter where you fall, I invite you this Christmas to search the Scriptures. Set some time aside to study, reflect and even question Jesus. It just might make your Christmas even more meaningful.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father,Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. Isaiah 9:6-7a
The Bible. I can’t think of a better place to go than the Bible for your information on Jesus. While the story of the coming of Jesus begins in the Old Testament, I suggest starting by reading one of the New Testament gospels from start to finish. (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John) Many pastors I know recommend beginning with the Gospel of John then reading Acts then Romans. If you don’t have a Bible most churches will gladly provide one for free.